Science Body Axes UCLA Chemistry Professor After Fatal Fire

LOS ANGELES, CA – The American Assn. for the Advancement of Science has dropped UCLA chemistry professor Patrick Harran as one of its 2015 fellows, saying that members who initially approved his nomination were unaware of a fatal fire in a laboratory he supervised.

The decision by the world’s largest general scientific society capped weeks of controversy sparked by the November announcement of Harran’s selection as one of 347 fellows.

The AAAS, which publishes the journal Science, received fierce criticism by workplace safety experts, chemists and the family of Sheharbano “Sheri” Sangji, a UCLA staff research associate who suffered extensive burns Dec. 29, 2008, and died 18 days later.

Harran, 46, was charged with four felonies stemming from the accident, which occurred when a plastic syringe Sangji was using to transfer t-butyl lithium from one sealed container to another came apart, spewing a chemical compound that ignites when exposed to air.

Sangji, 23, was not wearing a protective lab coat at the time.

Harran was accused of willfully violating state labor codes by failing to provide proper safety training and require protective gear for lab workers. He struck a deal last year with the Los Angeles County district attorney’s office to defer prosecution for five years, after which the charges will be dismissed if he meets certain conditions — including teaching chemistry to inner-city students each summer.